Rob Sabin Track One: The Big Pic­ture

The tech­nol­ogy changes, but the goal re­mains the same.

Sound & Vision - - CONTENS -

In prep­ping for this is­sue’s fo­cus on front pro­jec­tion, I found my­self phi­los­o­phiz­ing on the value of hav­ing a big im­age for view­ing movies, TV se­ri­als, and sports. Not just big, but re­ally big.

We can, of course, make all the jokes about how no one shop­ping for a TV ever com­plained about hav­ing too big a set when they got it home (a tru­ism for the most part, by the way). But there’s a rea­son that ded­i­cated sports bars re­ally sprung up as soon as af­ford­able front pro­jec­tors be­gan seep­ing into the mar­ket, and why the trend in cath­ode-ray-tube and now flat-panel tele­vi­sions has al­ways been to­ward larger and larger screens. If I had more time, I’d try dig­ging into the sci­ence of how our brains en­gage with cin­e­matic images; how our emo­tional re­sponse to the pro­gram changes as the per­cent­age of our pe­riph­eral vi­sion is in­creas­ingly filled, as surely it must. But I don’t need the sci­ence to prove what I know anec­do­tally to be true: Big­ger is al­ways bet­ter.

Some of the tech­nol­ogy to achieve a truly huge im­age at home re­mains ex­pen­sive and elu­sive for the mass mar­ket.

We’ve fre­quently men­tioned in these pages the ex­or­bi­tant cost of flat-panel tele­vi­sions above 75 inches, though we know from ex­pe­ri­ence that, as time marches on, man­u­fac­tur­ers will build fa­cil­i­ties ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing larger and larger sub­strate pan­els. These are the gi­nor­mous mas­ter pan­els from which smaller screens are cut. The big­ger the sub­strate, the greater ef­fi­ciency in punch­ing out big­ger in­di­vid­ual screens. That abil­ity to drive vol­ume in these larger sizes with each new gen­er­a­tion fac­tory even­tu­ally leads to cheaper prices, even more vol­ume, and...

How big will be big enough? At CES this year, Sam­sung showed its cut­ting-edge miniled dis­play—dubbed “The Wall”—at 146 inches di­ag­o­nal. The tech­nol­ogy re­lies on small mod­ules that can be con­fig­ured for any size they wanted, but com­pany reps said they ar­rived at this di­men­sion be­cause the av­er­age U.S. home has at least one wall that is 8 to 9 feet wide and there­fore large enough to ac­com­mo­date a 16:9 screen of that size. Per­haps the sweet spot is re­ally some­where in be­tween there and to­day’s 75- and 85-inch­ers. But the trend is clear, and for now it’s still to­ward big­ger and big­ger images.

Sam­sung’s Wall will launch later this year, at a final size and price that re­mained unan­nounced at press time. I’ll be sur­prised if it doesn’t cost mul­ti­ple times my an­nual salary. But this re­lent­less drive to ex­pand im­age size has also re­sulted in the emer­gence of more af­ford­able new tech­nolo­gies in­tended to bring the big pic­ture to a wider au­di­ence. Two are ex­plored in this is­sue. The first, ad­dressed in our an­nual front-pro­jec­tion primer up­date (page 36) and in our re­view of the Hisense Laser TV (page 58), is the re­cent con­certed push by man­u­fac­tur­ers to pro­mote ul­tra-short-throw pro­jec­tors for home use. For those un­aware, these are mod­estly sized com­po­nents typ­i­cally suit­able for table­top mount­ing that throw a pro­jected im­age of 100 inches from only 6 inches away from the screen. Mated with an am­bi­ent light re­ject­ing (ALR) screen mounted on the wall be­hind them, they’re a suit­able sub­sti­tute for a day-to-day flat-panel TV and con­sid­er­ably less costly than any mod­ern­day LCD or OLED TV of that size. But the key ben­e­fit is not so much their abil­ity to func­tion in am­bi­ent light, which tra­di­tional pro­jec­tors do as well. It’s the hugely sim­pli­fied in­stal­la­tion. All that’s re­quired is a tra­di­tional TV cre­denza to sup­port the pro­jec­tor and house the usual source and au­dio com­po­nents—no mount­ing, no snaking long sig­nal wires through ceil­ings and walls, no need for run­ning elec­tric­ity to some re­mote lo­ca­tion. The Hisense marks the sec­ond 4K UST model to come through our shop, and we’ve tested a more af­ford­able 1080p op­tion as well. I don’t doubt well see more.

An­other fas­ci­nat­ing big-screen al­ter­na­tive is the Roy­ole Moon vir­tual home the­ater head­set tested on page 50. Tech­ni­cally, this is a por­ta­ble, wear­able dis­play device, but its in­tent to re­pro­duce a gen­uinely cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence and uti­lize the en­tirety of your pe­riph­eral vi­sion re­ally makes it more like a pro­jec­tor than a clas­sic TV dis­play. It wasn’t with­out its caveats, not least of which are its nearly pound-anda-half weight and its $800 price tag. But it got the job done and left me won­der­ing if fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of prod­ucts like this won’t also make the big, big, big-screen ex­pe­ri­ence ac­ces­si­ble to an even wider au­di­ence.

Prod­ucts like ul­tra short throw pro­jec­tors and vir­tual the­ater glasses broaden the mar­ket for a truly big-screen ex­pe­ri­ence.

BY ROB SABIN, EDI­TOR

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